Bill and account collectors, sometimes called collectors, try to recover payment on overdue bills. They negotiate repayment plans with debtors and help them find solutions to make paying their overdue bills easier.

Duties

Bill and account collectors typically do the following:

  • Find consumers and businesses who have overdue bills
  • Track down consumers who have an out-of-date address by using the Internet, post office, credit bureaus, or neighbors—a process called “skip tracing”
  • Inform debtors that they have an overdue bill and try to negotiate a payment
  • Explain the terms of sale or contract with the debtor, when necessary
  • Learn the reasons for the overdue bills, which can help with the negotiations
  • Offer credit advice or refer a consumer to a debt counselor, when appropriate

Bill and account collectors generally contact debtors by phone, although sometimes they do so by mail. They use computer systems to update contact information and record past collection attempts with a particular debtor. Keeping these records can help collectors with future negotiations.

The main job of bill and account collectors is finding a solution that is acceptable to the debtor and maximizes payment to the creditor. Listening to the debtor and paying attention to his or her concerns can help the collector negotiate a solution.

After the collector and debtor agree on a repayment plan, the collector continually checks to ensure that the debtor pays on time. If the debtor does not pay, the collector submits a statement to the creditor, who can take legal action. In extreme cases, this legal action may include taking back goods or disconnecting service.

Collectors must follow federal and state laws that govern debt collection. These laws require that a collector make sure they are talking with the debtor before announcing that the purpose of the call is to collect a debt. A collector also must give a statement, called “mini-Miranda,” which informs the account holder that they are speaking with a bill or debt collector.

Although many collectors work for third-party collection agencies, some work in-house for the original creditor, such as a credit-card company or a health care provider. The day-to-day activities of in-house collectors are generally the same as those of other collectors.

Collectors usually have goals they are expected to meet. Typically, these include calls per hour and success rates.

Work Environment: 

Bill and account collectors held about 397,400 jobs in 2012. Many work in a call center for a third-party collection agency rather than the original creditor.

The industries that employed the most bill and account collectors in 2012 were as follows: 

Business support services 26%
Credit intermediation and related activities 21
Health care 15
Professional, scientific, and technical services 6
Management of companies and enterprises 5

Whichever industry the collectors work in, most of their time is spent on the phone tracking down or negotiating with debtors. They also spend time on the computer, updating information and recording the results of their calls.

Collectors’ work can be stressful because many people become angry and confrontational when pressed about their debts. Collectors often face resistance while trying to do their job tasks. Successful collectors must face regular rejection and still be ready to make the next call in a polite and positive voice. Fortunately, some consumers appreciate help in resolving their outstanding debts and can be quite grateful.

Work Schedules

Most bill and account collectors work full time. Some collectors work flexible schedules, often calling people on weekends or during the evenings as they learn the best times to call.

Education and Training: 

Collectors usually must have a high school diploma. A few months of on-the-job training is common.

Education

Most bill and account collectors are required to have a high school diploma, although some employers prefer applicants who have taken some college courses. Communication, accounting, and basic computer courses are examples of classes that are helpful for entering this occupation.

Training

Collectors usually get 1 to 3 months of on-the-job training after being hired. Training includes learning the company’s policies and computer software and learning the laws for debt collection in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, as well as their state’s debt collection regulations. If they do not have experience, collectors also may be trained in negotiation techniques.

Important Qualities

Listening skills. Collectors must pay attention to what debtors say when trying to negotiate a repayment plan. Learning the particular situation of the debtors and how they fell into debt can help collectors suggest solutions.

Negotiating skills. The main aspects of a collector’s job are reconciling the differences between two parties (the debtor and the creditor) and offering a solution that is acceptable to both parties.

Speaking skills. Collectors must be able to speak to debtors to explain their choices and ensure that they fully understand what is being said.

Pay: 

The median annual wage for bill and account collectors was $32,480 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,850, and the top 10 percent earned more than $48,640. These wage data include money earned from commissions. Collectors earn more when their collection rate is high.

In May 2012, median annual wages for bill and account collectors in the top five industries in which these collectors worked were as follows:

Management of companies and enterprises $34,950
Professional, scientific, and technical services 34,560
Credit intermediation and related activities 33,780
Health care 33,670
Business support services 28,130

Most bill and account collectors work full time. Some collectors work flexible schedules, often calling people on weekends or during the evenings as they learn the best times to call.

Job Outlook: 

Employment of bill and account collectors is projected to grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations.

Fast job growth is expected for collectors in medical industries. As the cost of healthcare increases, the amount of medical debt that people incur is likely to rise as well. Employment of bill and account collectors is projected to grow 30 percent in offices of health practitioners from 2012 to 2022.

In addition, credit card companies are more commonly selling their debts to third-party agencies, likely also increasing job growth in the collections industry. From 2012 to 2022, employment of bill and account collectors is projected to grow 20 percent in business support services, which includes collection agencies.

However, the increasing efficiency of collectors is expected to slow employment growth for this occupation. New software and automated calling systems should increase productivity and allow collectors to handle more accounts.

Although some collection jobs will likely be sent to other countries where wages are lower, creditors will continue to hire collectors in the United States because workers in this country tend to have greater success in negotiating with debtors.

Job Prospects

Job prospects are likely to be excellent for this occupation. Workers frequently leave the occupation, which leads to numerous job openings.

Unlike many other occupations, collections jobs usually remain stable during economic downturns. When the economy weakens, many consumers and businesses fall behind on their financial obligations, increasing the amount of debt to be collected. However, the success rate of collectors decreases because fewer people can afford to pay their debts.

For More Information: 

For more information about bill and account collectors, visit

ACA International, The Association of Credit and Collections Professionals

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.